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Faculty Member Fundraises Medical Equipment

Faculty member Lynn Dykeman, and her colleagues at Stonechurch Family Health Centre, have been close partners and friends to Hamilton’s large Kurdish community for many years.

Narmin Mzouri used to be part of a large family.

That was in 1988 in the Kurdish district of northern Iraq, in the days before first Saddam Hussein and later a terrorist group called ISIL tried to wipe out an entire people.

Those campaigns claimed the lives of 27 of Mzouri’s relatives, many from the effects of poison gas attacks launched by Hussein. Humanitarian groups estimate at least 50,000 were killed.

“We didn’t have a life then, we saw nothing but people dying,” Mzouri recalled on the weekend. “Everything for me then was seeing people die.”

The killing stopped for a short time after the overthrow of Saddam, but the rise of the terror organization known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has opened new depths of horror and violence.

Rather than give in to hopelessness, however, Mzouri is fighting back by helping Hamilton’s social worker Lynn Dykeman organize the shipment of more than $100,000 worth of wheelchairs, walkers and other desperately needed equipment to the troubled Middle Eastern region.

The equipment drive came to a head Saturday afternoon when Dykeman, Mzouri and a crew of volunteers loaded the wheelchairs and other items onto a shipping container for transport.

Dykeman, a social worker at McMaster University-affiliated Stonechurch Family Health Centre, visited Iraq following Hussein’s downfall and recalls a new spirit of hope taking root among the people — a spirit that has since been ruthlessly crushed by ISIL and its campaign to entrench its version of fundamentalist Islam.

“There was a time of hope and rebuilding after Saddam, but then ISIL came along and now we are back to being a war zone,” she said.

The urge to do something more than shake her head was born from seeing Kurdish patients at the centre struggling with post traumatic stress disorder and other ailments stemming from their experiences.

“I could see that we weren’t doing a good job of meeting their needs,” she said. “Their stories of what they have experienced are just unbelievable.”

For a Christian — Dykeman is a member of St. James Anglican Church in Dundas — there was also a desire not to repeat the shame of the past when people fleeing Nazi persecution found Canada’s gates solidly barred against them.

“During the Holocaust, Canada was quietly doing nothing,” she said. “This is the human crisis of our time and we are doing something about it.

“This is something we can do because we’ve been there and we know what they need,” she added.

Linda Hilts, a retired Stonechurch centre worker who can’t stop working, said the 23 wheelchairs, 20 walkers and 40 boxes of orthopedic supplies such as elbow and knee pads would be worth more than $100,000 if the material was purchased new.

Many of the items, however, were collected through St. James.

“You’d be surprised how many wheelchairs are just sitting in the back of great-aunt Petunia’s garage waiting to be donated to something like this,” she said. “We hope this is just the first shipment we’re going to send.”

The Kurds are an ethnic group living in the intersection of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey where they face varying levels of discrimination. They are mostly Sunni Muslims, but there are also Christians and Yazidis among their population. In Iraq, it was estimated they represented 20 per cent of the population.

Saddam Hussein was charged with genocide for his treatment of the Kurds but was convicted and hanged in 2006 for other murders before he could be tried on that case.

Read the original story on The Hamilton Spectator website.

McMaster University Department of Family MedicineMichael G. DeGroote School of Medicine